A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All
Two bloggers. Two different hemispheres. One vision (largely impaired by too much clutter, dirt, and booze). Exposed for all the world to see as Housekeepers of Ill-Repute, Proprietresses of Dubious Maternal Instinct, and Woefully Neglectful Wives.
One time I admitted to the women in my babysitting co-op that I let my kids watch SpongeBob SquarePants. Oh, the horror on their faces! You would have thought I said that I let my kids watch snuff films and porn. (Which I hardly ever do… anymore.)
So I refilled my wine glass and attempted to defend myself. I’m not a huge fan of cat fights or confrontation in general, so I probably should have just kept my mouth shut… but I didn’t. It was not pretty.
They unanimously rallied that SpongeBob (and to some, the Nickelodeon channel in general) teaches bad values. “There are bad words like ‘shut up’ and ‘idiot’ on that show!” they tutted.
“Well, same with every damn Disney movie!” I argued. “At least there is a strong female supporting character on SpongeBob… you know, Sandy?! The flying squirrel who is a deep sea scientist and martial arts expert? Sha! . . . and another thing, Disney Princesses are HORRIBLE role models for girls! I hate them. Hate them all.”
“Focus Iris. We’re not talking about Disney. SpongeBob is violent!” they needled.
“Have you seen BOLT yet? The opening sequence has exploding helicopters and a chase scene that makes me want to put a nitroglycerin tablet under my tongue.”
“[We] just don’t like how the characters treat each other and talk to each other on that show. It is disgraceful!”
“Have you even watched it? SpongeBob is the single most optimistic, loyal, and moral friend, neighbor, and employee on TV right now. He is a beacon of light and hope! And the show is hilarious. My kids get it. We laugh a lot when we watch that show and I will actually watch it with them, as opposed to Barney or Dora the Explorer which make me want to poke my eyes out and stomp on them.” Oh shit… I’m crossing the line. I’m like a Pit Bull with lipstick now… only I can’t see Russia from my house, probably because my windows are so dirty.
“Fine. Suit yourself. But please don’t let my kids watch it when (if ever again, doubtful, but if) they are at your house.”
“Fine.” (Gulp, gulp, gulp, breathe, think of something witty to retort, refill, dramatic pause for effect, and…) “Then don’t teach my daughter that her VAGINA is called a ‘down-there’ when she is at YOUR house. Deal.” So there! Pththththththththth!
Why do we do it to each other? Why must we judge each others’ parenting like this? Is it because we need to feel competent or superior to someone else in order to feel better about our own work as parents? Or is it just human nature to compare and judge? I honestly know of no other role in which people feel so entitled to act so “holier than thou.” It is an epidemic among mothers in my circle.
I don’t have the answer, but I know I’m equally guilty of being judged by my neighbors and friends as I am of judging them in return. We’re all still friends, but don’t kid yourself, there is judging and finger pointing going on here.
The SpongeBob thing is just one of many examples of ways that my parenting style differs from some of my friends’ parenting. More often than not, I seem to be the one who is doing it “wrong.” I am not a model parent. I think my kids thrive in spite of me, not because of me. But I try. I get out of bed everyday and I try. I fail a lot… if you read this blog often, you know that already. But I also laugh a lot and I think the laughter is good for the kiddies… at least it compensates for the chaos. I’m not structured, I don’t provide routines or systems or much consistency, but I’m good at first aid, bodily fluid cleanup, celebrity impressions, and loving my babies unconditionally with all my heart and soul.
I recently spent a lovely evening at a friend’s house with my kids. While the adults were gabbing away at the table, my 6 year old daughter and their 7 year old son came running to us with some kind of monumental problem. The boy was clearly frustrated and felt that he was the recipient of a grave injustice, which is his achilles heel, and he very begrudgingly started to cry. It was heartbreaking to watch his face struggle with trying to keep it together. My daughter, “Klepto,” is the kind of kid who, I hate to say it, is frequently the reason why other kids in her vicinity cry. We have a pattern and I’m not proud of it, but when someone around her bursts into tears, I instinctively ask her: “What did you do?” Wait – don’t judge yet. There is a history there. She is a very passionate, physical child and she has a well established history of age-appropriate violence… probably from watching all that SpongeBob.
Well, there we were, guests in my friends’ home, and me not wanting to take the lead in resolving or helping the kids to resolve the issue. Plus, my friend is one of the best parents I know and I wanted to see what she would do and learn from her. So I sat there in silence while she suggested that Klepto and Carson go sit down with “The Peace Rock” and talk.
WHAT? “The Peace Rock?” Are you fucking kidding me? Dude. Why not get out “The Peace Pistol” or “The Peace Nunchucks,” I teased my friends. I was very skeptical. They know my daughter; they know she can be somewhat explosive, impulsive, and physical. They are smart people and amazing parents. But what works for their kids is totally not going to work for mine. Come on… look at us… we watch butt-loads of TV and eat trans fats by the kilo. So, I’m sitting there, biting my tongue, thinking, “OK, your house, your rules. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” And my friend’s husband left the room to facilitate The Peace Rock protocol while I sat there listening for screams and imagining how the court case would go when they sue me for damages.
Long story short, The Peace Rock totally worked. I was SHOCKED… not about the success of their method, but about it working with my daughter who I have clearly labeled and underestimated. The Peace Rock is a great idea. It teaches listening skills and respect and conflict resolution. But I’m guessing that the first time a kid tries this move on the playground, they are going to get their ass kicked and their head dented by a rock. I think it worked the other night because there was a loving adult right there facilitating it. That probably wouldn’t happen in my house. I would yell across the yard, “Klepto, quit crying, get The Peace Rock, and work it out with your brothers!” while I did a diaper change, stirred the slop, chased down the dog who was running with the remote control in his mouth, and answered the phone to discover that the Assistant Principal would like to schedule a meeting with me, again, to discuss Klepto’s behavior on the playground today involving, you guessed it, a rock. I know myself. I could never pull this off. But kudos to my friends who do. Maybe I could try The Peace Pillow… no, smothering risk. The Peace Sock? Hmmm, maybe. Oh who am I kidding? I am lazy. I’m just gonna keep using the The Peace Earplugs…a.k.a. Ignore-It-Until-The-Whining-Stops-or-Someone-Is-Bleeding.
I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone who knows me blames me for Klepto’s battles with socially inappropriate behavior… after all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Some probably point their fingers and whisper things like “I wonder where she gets it!” and “Well, you know they watch SpongeBob and eat partially hydrogenated oils!” I’m pretty sure about this because I do the same thing. I judge my friend Tammy for letting her 9 year old son watch Drake and Josh, and I ask her not to let my son watch it when he is there. We still love each other more than our luggage, but we don’t always approve of each other’s parenting or Vulva Candy decorating choices. I judge my friend Carol for letting her toddler drink Diet Coke. And I’m gonna bet that my Peace Rock loving friends shake their heads in pity at my obvious lack of parenting tools. See that? There is a continuum. Like a spectrum of parenting evils… trans fats are bad, but at least I don’t give my kids aspartame! I yell at my kids, often in fact, but at least I don’t beat them with a belt or make them kneel on rice in the corner. See the reasoning? We all do it… we all compare and justify. If you don’t, you are either Jesus Christ or a fucking liar.
It is the toughest, most important job there is, but one thing I know for sure about parenting: right, wrong, or somewhere in between, we are all just doing the best we can. The bottom line is that we all love our children and we all feel terrible when we make mistakes. When I’m not busy blaming my parents, I like to fault technology for the crazy state of the world today. We are all so inundated with information about the right and best and most *whatever* ways to do everything from feed, to discipline, to potty train our kids, that we must instinctively rely on needing to feel superior at something as a survival technique… a way to keep doing it day after day and not feel like an overwhelmed failure so much of the time. Or, ahem, maybe that’s just me. I just wish we could all be better at supporting, nurturing, and educating each other instead of being so quick to compare and judge. It’s something I’d like to work on. Join me, won’t you?
By the way… my daughter did tell me to “shut [my] half-wit pie hole” once — just once. She was four and it was out of context, but as soon as I picked my jaw off the ground, stopped trying to stifle my simultaneous urges to giggle and throttle her, and was able to form a sentence, I demanded: “WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT?” “Squidward said it to SpongeBob,” she spat. “Hmmm,” said I. So we watch it together now and talk about how inappropriate Squidward can be at times and strategize about things he could do to be a better friend. Not all the time. Just sometimes. But clearly it is making a difference… Carson’s head is not dented by “The Peace Rock,” and I have some good friends who love me and my daughter in spite of ourselves.